An all India fact finding team comprising of six democratic rights organizations visited districts of Gumla, Palamau, Lathehar, East Singhbhum and Saraikela-Kharsewan between the 3rd and 4th October 2008. The objective was to look into issues and experiences related to displacement occurring as a result of projects undertaken in the name of development and growth. These included hydel power and irrigation projects, firing range and steel plants owned by TATAs, Jindal, Bhushan Abhijeet and Essar group of companies. The specific issues addressed by the team included the very process by which both the government and corporate houses went about informing the affected public, the question of compensation for the land acquired or in the process of being acquired, rehabilitation of people, etc.
Netharhat Field Firing Range
The Government proposed the establishment of a temporary and permanent firing range at Netarhat displacing 224 villages in Palamau, Gumla and Latehar Districts. In 1994 following strong public protest, the army agreed to suspend its plans of acquiring land for the proposed project. Of late, there has been some move to revive the project.
Following the sanction for a hydel project on the river Koel in 1972, moves were made to acquire land and construction began. 13 villages were declared as falling within the submerged area. Although some compensation was paid it was pittance. Following people’s resistance, the project was stalled. But the Government has abandoned these villages and is not providing any of the normal administrative or developmental benefits to them.
The sanction for a dam on Koel river came in 1972. Land was acquired for construction of the main dyke and irrigation colony. The total number of affected villages was initially said to be 16 villages. However later estimates suggested that no less than 45 villagers would be submerged. One of the leaders of the struggle was killed in 1988. It was after a struggle spanning over a decade and demonstration by the villagers of the complete unfeasibility of the project that the project was finally stalled.
The team noted an apathy and absence of government run programmes such as NREGA, rural health schemes in these project areas. The team found that a large number of the affected villages had no water supply or electricity.
In both Mandal and Auranga the compensation given for the land acquired was extremely low. In Mandal, compensation for the land acquired was Rs.10, 000/- and 25 decimels of land. In addition, the villagers informed us that the land was rocky and non-cultivable. In Aurganga, there are allegations of corruption as the compensation ranged from Rs.2300 per acre to Rs.18, 000 per acre.
The villagers have waged a long and hard struggle opposing these projects and though the work on the projects stopped, they have not been formally annulled. Though over a decade has passed since the stalling, there have been efforts on the part of the government recently to revive these projects and the people’s struggles are far from over. The Government seems to be playing a game of wait and watch expecting that lack of any development activities along with the prolonged uncertainty may break the unity and resolve of the people. The government has no right to acquire people’s land for an alleged public purpose and sit on the matter without either executing the project or returning the land to the people.
Abhijeet Power Project and ESSAR Steel Plant, Latehar District.
These two projects will end up acquiring 26,000 acres, most of which is cultivable land, spreading across 28 villages. MOU between Abhjeet Project and the state government fixes the compensation as Rs.35, 000 per acre. The government has left it to the company to acquire the land directly from the villagers, which means use of middlemen “to persuade” the villagers to part with their land. Most of the villagers belong to the SC and ST communities. We will comment more below on these methods and the Government’s apathy in this regard.
Jindal and Bhushan Projects at East Singhbum and Saraikela-Kharsewan districts
The block of Potka in East Singbhum district is witness to people’s agitations against the attempts by the Jindal and Bhushan groups to get hold of land for setting up iron ore based projects. The government has not come forward with any information regarding these projects. When the agitating people met the Deputy Commissioner and other officials they are being told that the government knows nothing about the projects and the projects will come up only if the land holders willingly sell their land to the companies. This is sheer hypocrisy. It is a matter of record that the government of Jharkhand has entered into MOUs with these companies inviting heavy investment in the iron and steel industry and promising all assistance in return.
Armed with this undertaking the companies are using repressive and unethical methods to pressurize the people to sell the land of the company’s choice. If they were honest in their purpose they could make an application to the Gram Sabha and seek the consent of the landholders in a transparent manner. Instead they are shelling out money and other benefits to purchase agents in the villages who are using threats to pressurize the people to agree to sell their land to the company. When the men from the company along with such agents attempted to undertake a survey of the land, the people resisted and physically restrained them. This happened at Kalikapur on 8th August 2008. There was a scuffle between the agents of the company and the people. Though nobody was injured, the police interfered and booked a criminal case of attempt to murder against the people but did not book any case against the intruders. The people are apprehensive that by such a combination of police and paid agents the companies may forcibly take over their lands in the name of voluntary sale. It is significant that the representative of Bhushan Steels has come out with the statement that his company is interested in setting up the project if police security is provided. If in fact he is to acquire the land by voluntary sale, he should need no such security.
This process is seen more clearly in Tontoposi of Gamaria block, Saraikela-Kharsewan district. Here the Tatas are setting out to purchase land for their 12 million tonne project affecting 23 villages in four Gram Panchayats. Tontoposi is one of them. From the beginning, as in the Potka block the people here have opposed the project. Initially they mobilized under Bhumi Raksha Grameena Ekta Manch. The Manch itself was co-opted by the Tatas and converted into their paid agents. The Manch is now threatening and harassing the activists of the newly formed Bhumi Raksha Grameen Andolan Abhiyan. When the Andolan stopped the attempt of the Tatas to inaugurate a rehabilitation centre, the leaders of the Manch picked up a quarrel with them, which ended in the murder of Hiralal Mahato, an active worker of the Andolan in Tidingdipa on 12 September this year. The silence that reigns in the villages today is indicative of suppressive tactics being used by the Tatas and other companies.
Even in purely legal terms the action of the government of Jharkhand in entering into MOUs with these companies and letting them lose on the villages to purchase land is objectionable. This entire area referred to above falls under the 5th Schedule of the Constitution. As held by the Supreme Court of India in Samatha vs State of Andhra Pradesh (1997), paragraph 5 (2) of the 5th Schedule of the Constitution contains an inbuilt prohibition against transfer of land in scheduled areas in favour of any non-tribal including a company. This area also falls under the jurisdiction of Chotanagpur Tenancy Act. Section 46 of that Act prohibits transfer of land from STs to non-STs, SCs to non-SCs and BCs to non-BCs without the permission of the Deputy Commissioner of the district. Since all the lands in the named villages are owned by SCs, STs or BCs and Tatas, Jindals and Bhushans do not belong to those categories, the government cannot pretend that there can be any sale without its intervention. When people are strongly resisting the sale, it is the bounden duty of the Deputy Commissioner to come forward and say that he will not permit such sale.
Resistance to land acquisition for projects is often met by promises of adequate rehabilitation. The people are painted as unreasonable if they continue their resistance notwithstanding such promises. But the reality shows that people’s skepticism is more than justified. We visited Gangudih colony, a rehabilitation centre of the Chandil dam. There are 12 such rehabilitation centres for a total of about 116 submerged villages. The project started in the 1970s. The resistance was brutally suppressed by police firing in 1978. The dam was completed in 1984, though the canals are yet to be fully dug. The first rehabilitation promise was made in 1990 when the displaced families were offered Rs. 20,000 for construction of house and Rs. 50,000 for purchase of alternative land. In the year 2003 this was modified to Rs. 50,000 for construction of house and Rs. 75,000 for purchase of alternative land. As of the year 2008 not even half the displaced families have received the rehabilitation package.
1. The Government should put a stop to further activity on development projects facing opposition from people and open a dialogue with the concerned people.
2. Netrahat Field Firing Range and Mandal Dam and Auranga Dam submerge considerable amount of forest land in which local people have rights. Stop further activities on these projects and as a first measure settle the rights of these people under the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (recognition of forest Rights) Act .
3. Resume development work in the Netrahat Field Firing Range area where no land has been acquired by the government.
4. Restitution of rights of the people in the Mandal and Auranga dam as construction of project has not been undertaken in spite of land being acquired more than two decades ago, the rights of the original land-holders should be restored and development activities resumed.
5. In the area of East Singhbhum, Lathehar and Saraikela- Kharsewan districts, where the Vth schedule of the Constitution and the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act apply, the Government should forthwith withdraw all MOUs entered into with companies for extraction of minerals or establishment of industries.
6. Stop repression on people agitating against displacement and take action against private gangs being used by the companies to suppress people’s movement.
Coordination of Democratic Rights Organizations
Moushumi Basu, People’s Union for Democratic Rights, PUDR
K.Balagopal, Human Rights Forum, HRF
Arun Pal, Association for Protection of Democratic Rights, APDR
Phulindro Konsam, Committee on Human Rights, COHR
Monica Sakhrani, Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights, CPDR
Shashi Bhushan Pathak, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, PUCL-Jharkhand
5th October 2008, Ranchi